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Behind the doors: Sara Deborah Shares Special Christmas Memories

Sara Deborah Timossi, nee Struntz enjoys a versatile musician’s life as a performer on the baroque and modern violin, a teacher, mother and activist. She has appeared as a soloist and recitalist across Europe, plays with leading baroque orchestras like the English Concert and Dunedin Consort and has won an international competition for baroque violin. She also directs the SouthDowns Camerata and founded the now annual music festival, the Spirit of Music Festival in Hampshire.

On stage with the English Concert (Rheingau Festival)

As a mother of three lively kids in a tri-lingual household - Sara Deborah is German, her husband Italian, and they live in Hampshire "with a couple of guinea pigs and a few fish!", life can be crazy but also very rewarding.

Sara Deborah is passionate about ecological activism, often together with her children who sing as part of the children’s eco-choir, BGT semi-finalist SOS from the Kids. Her love for nature carried her family through lockdown:

"During the first lockdown we did lots of cycling and walking, even swimming in nearby ponds. We are very lucky to have a local heathland military training ground just behind the house that is usually open to the public. We definitely adopted a slower pace, took more time for making things at home, baking, painting, science experiments, reading....The trickiest thing was the home-schooling, while I had always fancied myself a bit as a home-educator.

I found that the willingness of the children or the ingenuity of the teacher wasn't to be taken for granted! It was a challenge staying positive and productive, and I was worried about my children's mental health for not seeing friends and having the stimulation of school. It was a huge relief when schools re-started and the children could see friends in parks again. Without nature it would have been a lot harder! "

In the last few years Sara Deborah was just seeing her performance career begin to grow again having returned after her youngest child, so she has really missed performing together with people in various groups and tours.

"Our festival (that would have been in its 8th year) also couldn't take place, but in October we managed to put on two socially distanced concerts.

Socially distanced Bach with SouthDowns Camerata (Oct 2020)

Playing together as a string orchestra to a live audience after so many months was really special for us performers, and many of the audience were deeply moved by hearing live music again."

Musician Mums Quick Christmas Quiz

Can you tell us what you'll miss most about performing this Christmas?

Both the professional gigs like Messiah and Christmas oratorio which are so essential parts of this time, and the local carol singing in congregation, around the village and in the extended family. And I will really miss the school's Nine lessons and carol service where my youngest one will be the Christmas Star and Angel Gabriel this year and the other classes sing beautiful songs - we won't be able to attend as parents, but we'll receive a video.

What's your favourite carol/Christmas song?

Ich steh and deiner Krippen hier, and In the bleak midwinter. But for the children's sake Away in a Manger also has to be mentioned!

And what are you hoping for this year for Christmas?

I think to see our families soon again. Harmony and inner peace. And good world leadership in a solution to not only Covid but also the natural world's and our children's future in a restored and cared for environment.

Do you have a favourite Christmas memory - musical or otherwise?

Germany has lots of lovely Christmas traditions, so there's quite a lot to choose from - Christmas markets, snow, extended family sing-alongs.... More recently, with my family, I can think of a few beautiful ones: My eldest daughter's first conscious Christmas when she was three and fully expected to meet Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus when returning home from church on Christmas eve. As it was all about baby Jesus' birthday, we thought about some presents we could wrap for him, including important issues of the world, and she played her tiny violin at the crib scene.

Or Christmas four years ago when my husband and I were the holy couple as nowadays refugees in a play I had written for the Christingle. My youngest daughter was about 11 months, but just about fitted in my sling and slept peacefully until she woke up to gracefully receive the presents given by the other children. In the same service my 5y old son prevented his baby sister to put her fingers in the candle, and nearly set the bottom of the person before him alight when spreading the Christingle!

But my most moving memory is one that speaks beautifully of the power of music. Back with my German family we used to play music in the hospital where my father and mother worked as doctors on Christmas eve. It was always really impressive (and a little intimidating) to imagine that even through the apparatus and possibly induced coma people might perceive their beloved tunes. In a carol service a few years ago when we spent Christmas in Germany, an old lady was sitting in her wheelchair at the front, we weren't sure how much she could participate. Then, during the penultimate hymn, Silent Night, she lifted her head and started singing. Quite clearly, and definitely with the tune. After the service she broke down in tears, and as my mother went over to comfort her, she disclosed with great difficulty that the power of speech was lost to her through a stroke, and she was only starting to regain a little of it. But hearing her favourite song from her childhood, she discovered that she could sing. We felt like witnessing a miracle that day!"

And what's your favourite thing about Christmas?

Everything about it: the smells - fir greens in the house (my husband jokes I transform the house into a wood in Advent time), Christmas bakery, mulled wine; the lights, candles; the music and festive joy, and the reaching out to people and the warm feelings. The central message of love and peace incorporated in a little baby- something I could connect even better to when holding my children in my arms for the first time.

The fun - from end of November to end of January my children dance to fun Christmas CDs, and my husband dresses up as Father Christmas on 25th morning. We also have the privilege of using traditions from three cultures so we have several festive days - St Martin on 11 November (lantern making), St Nicholas on 6 December (Lebkuchen, and orange, a twig and a little present in the boots), German Christmas on Christmas eve, Italian/English Christmas on Christmas day, Befana (a type of Roman sweet-distributing good witch) on 6 January. It never ends!

Not seeing our families at Christmas is not so unusual for us (although sad), but it's special that this year they will be able to hear some of our music through the Advent Calendar.

Finally, give us a hint towards what you're performing on the advent calendar?

From shepherd to redeemer?

Thanks so much!


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